Living with an Anxious Spouse
All couples have their share of life challenges or issues throughout their relationship. However, when one spouse has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the couple faces a whole new set of challenges. Normal, everyday life issues seem to become exaggerated and can inevitably put a significant strain on the relationship.
Living with an anxiety disorder is typically associated with a great deal of personal distress, but it can be just as hard on the partners of those diagnosed with anxiety. Their significant others often take on more than the normal share of financial burden, household responsibilities, and emotional support.
In relationships where one partner suffers from anxiety, finances can be a major source of the couple’s problems. An anxiety disorder may interfere with one’s ability to either become or stay employed. It can even limit a person’s ability to participate in monthly bill paying or budgeting. When the entire household financial burden is placed on one person (especially if this is from necessity rather than choice) arguments and resentment tend to build and put undue stress on the marriage.
Routine household chores, running errands, getting children to school, and extracurricular activities can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. These family activities can take up a considerable amount of time and energy. Keeping the family calendar coordinated requires great attention to detail. When one partner is not able to participate in completing these tasks, the entire responsibility falls on the other partner. This may contribute to bitter feelings within the marriage.
In addition to caring for their children and their households, those spouses without anxiety may also care for their partners or modify family activities to be sure the needs of their anxious spouses are met.
People with anxiety disorders often avoid social activities and situations. Unfortunately, their partners’ social lives may ultimately suffer as well, leaving them both partners feeling isolated and alone. Both partners may feel depressed, scared, or angry.
Helping Your Anxious Spouse
Here are some tips in order to help one’s partner who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder:
- Learn about the specific anxiety disorder
- Encourage and support treatment (individual and couples/family therapy)
- Use positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors
- Don’t criticize the irrational fears associated with anxiety
- Help to set specific and realistic goals
- Talk about panic, fears, and worries
- Be patient and calm
- Balance whether to push
- Learn relaxation and anti-stress techniques
Understanding Different Anxiety Disorders
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Becoming educated on the type of anxiety one’s spouse is experiencing is essential.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things.
Social anxiety is the extreme fear of being scrutinized or judged by others in social or performance situations. Although they recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, they are terrified they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in those who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, death of a loved one, war, a violent attack such as rape, or any other life-threatening event.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which individuals experience unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions). Often this compels them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try to ease their anxiety.
Phobias are a strong, irrational fear. A person with phobias will work hard to avoid certain places, situations, or things. Examples include animals, insects, germs, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, elevators, and dental or medical procedures.
It is essential for the spouses of those diagnosed with anxiety to take care of themselves as well. Engage in outside interests and hobbies. Take breaks from the stresses of daily life. Don’t become consumed with your partner’s anxiety. Maintain a support system (family, friends, support groups). Set boundaries. Seek professional help for yourself, if necessary.
Attending couples counseling can significantly help the relationship. Couples counseling can help develop the communication skills and tools needed for resolving conflict and developing problem-solving skills needed to alleviate the issues that contribute to the stress of both partners when dealing with anxiety.
Anxious couple photo from Shutterstock.
Schnell, S. (2018). Living with an Anxious Spouse. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/living-with-an-anxious-spouse/